by Kristen Rosser cross posted from her blog Wordgazer’s Words
In the Christian group I belonged to in college, we believed we had all the answers.
Other Christians might differ from us in doctrine, but we knew the truth, straight from the Bible. “God said it, I believe it, and that settles it,” we would say. We even knew why everyone didn’t see things the same way we did. They were deceived. Or they were “in compromise” with sin and were trying to justify themselves. Or they were “lukewarm” and just didn’t want to “pay the price” to really “press forward in the things of God.”
I remember the time I mentioned to an older church member that I wondered about young-earth creationism. I asked her if maybe the earth wasn’t six thousand years old. Maybe God didn’t intend the “days” of Genesis 1 to be viewed as 24-hour periods?
She became very upset. “It was evening, and it was morning, one day,” was what the Bible said. How could I possibly be questioning that? If we were going to start changing the meaning of Bible words, who knew where it could end? If we started to believe the wrong things, what would happen to us?
I shut up. But I couldn’t help seeing what was behind her eyes as she put me back on the straight and narrow.
Oh, there was fear of the leadership, of course. No one wanted the pastors to decide a demonic spirit of deception was upon any of us. They would take us into a private room where a group of the most trusted members would spend hours shouting at the demon to come out of us. In the worst case scenario, we could be subjected to public rebuke in front of the whole congregation, or even be excommunicated.
But the fear went deeper than that. It was in essence a fear of not believing properly— a fear that we could find ourselves on a slippery slope towards actually falling away from Christ.
“It’s very important what you believe,” they told us. Whole sermons were preached on this. We were saved by faith in Christ, and though we were supposed to enter a trusting personal relationship with Christ through that faith, what “faith” meant, ultimately, was believing the right things. Hebrews 11:6 was constantly repeated to us: “But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.”
Belief is high priority in Christianity. Even apart from the spiritually abusive, controlling segments, it’s high priority. One of the most famous things Jesus said was, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16, Emphasis added.) And Paul said, “If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9, Emphasis added.)
But there’s a problem. Belief, as most often understood in the modern Western world means “Mental acceptance of and conviction in the truth, actuality, or validity of something” or “Something believed or accepted as true, especially a particular tenet or a body of tenets accepted by a group of persons.” The word also has a third meaning, “The mental act, condition, or habit of placing trust or confidence in another,” but when we say, “I believe in God” or “I believe in the Resurrection of Christ,” that third meaning isn’t usually what we’re talking about.
But Jesus and Paul spoke of belief primarily in that third sense. Belief in something as an accepted truth was not nearly as important as trust and confidence– not in a set of tenets, but in Christ, the Father God and the Holy Spirit. Belief in doctrine was meant to spring out of that trust– not the other way around.
If you ask most Christians straight out, they will usually say that they do believe it’s trust in Christ that saves them. And yet so many times, we live our lives as if the really important thing was what we mentally hold to be true– or even simply that we hold the approved opinions.
And the problem with this, of course, is that if every thought and opinion must be the “right” one according to our religious group, we are in danger of being so right-thinking that we never actually think at all.
Theologian and Bible scholar Peter Enns, Ph.D. says:
The scandal of the Evangelical mind is that degrees, books, papers, and other marks of prestige are valued–provided you come to predetermined conclusions. . . that doctrine determines academic conclusions.
Evangelicalism is not fundamentally an intellectual organism but an apologetic one. It did not come to be in order to inspire academic exploration but to maintain certain theological distinctives by intellectual means. These intellectual means are circumscribed by Evangelical dogma. . . As an intellectual phenomenon, the Evangelical experiment is a defensive movement.
“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” 1 John 4:18. It’s time to let go of fear of not being right.
Because we’re not saved by being right. We’re saved by trusting in Christ.
Kristen is a wife, mother and works as a paralegal in the beautiful Pacific Northwest. She’s also written many of the FAQ pages here at NLQ. Kristen blogs from the perspective of a Christian who still believes even after leaving a spiritually abusive environment behind.